AFC West: Le'Ron McClain

Considered one of the better players at his position, fullback Le'Ron McClain played in just 12 percent of the offensive snaps for the San Diego Chargers in 2013.

McClain
McClain was due to make $2.5 million in base salary in 2014, considered high for a fullback. So it's no surprise that the team released the University of Alabama product Tuesday, as first reported by U-T San Diego.

The move is another cost-cutting measure for the Chargers, who were tight against the salary cap heading into the beginning of free agency next week. The Chargers save $2.5 million in cash and $3.3 million in salary cap space by releasing McClain.

The Chargers do have a fullback currently on the roster in Zach Boren, who signed a futures contract with the team in January.
SAN DIEGO -- In this ESPN Insider piece Insider, Mike Sando takes a look at the top 25 free agents set to hit the market in 2014.

While that list does not include a player from San Diego's current roster, I thought we'd take this opportunity to look at the Chargers salary cap situation heading into Year 2 of the general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy regime.

Telesco is scheduled to talk with reporters at the team's facility on Wednesday.

McCoy offered few details during his end-of-the-season interview session when asked what his team's approach will be in free agency, including the team's top unrestricted free agent, middle linebacker Donald Butler.

The Chargers have 12 players set to become unrestricted free agents once the free agency period begins in March.

“We'll address all those things down the road,” McCoy said. “We're going to sit down, like I talked about, as an organization and as a staff, Tom (Telesco) and the personnel department, we'll evaluate our football team and we'll have tough decisions like we do every offseason like all 32 teams.

“There's a lot of things that come into the equation and we'll do what we think is best for the football team moving forward.”

San Diego finished at about $120 million in salary cap space in 2013, allowing the team to carry over about $2.3 million into the 2014 season. With a projected league-wide salary cap of $126.3 million, San Diego's adjusted salary cap for 2014 if the team carries over cap dollars will be between $128-$129 million, giving them little space to sign its own free agents, let alone free agents from other teams.

However, the Chargers could save cap space with a couple different moves. The second year of cornerback Derek Cox's four-year, $20 million salary is guaranteed for injury only, according to salary cap specialist Brian McIntyre. If Cox is on San Diego's roster on the third day of the new league year once it begins in March, his $4.25 million salary is guaranteed.

But releasing Cox in February after the Super Bowl, the proration of Cox's $3.9 million signing bonus would accelerate into the 2014 salary cap for the Chargers. So San Diego would save $1.65 million in cap space and $4.25 million in cash by releasing Cox.

The Chargers could save another $11.55 million in salary-cap space and cash by releasing players getting long in the tooth like guard Jeromey Clary ($4.55 in non-guaranteed base salary), receiver Eddie Royal ($4.5 million) and fullback Le'Ron McClain ($2.5 million).

Also, according to McIntyre, edge rusher Dwight Freeney is due a $500,000 roster bonus on March 15. Freeney is set to make $3.5 million in non-guaranteed salary in 2014. Freeney says he plan on returning from a torn quad that ended his 2013 season, and will play next year.

Chargers 2013 salary cap: $120 million
Chargers projected 2014 salary cap: $128-$129 million
Unrestricted free agents: WR Seyi Ajirotutu , WR Danario Alexander, RB Ronnie Brown, LB Donald Butler, LB Larry English, WR Lavelle Hawkins, CB Richard Marshall, OL Rich Ohrnberger, OL Chad Rinehart, SS Darrell Stuckey, DL Cam Thomas, LB Reggie Walker.
SAN DIEGO -- For a third straight week, the San Diego Chargers will go into a game mostly healthy.

Receiver Eddie Royal and fullback Le'Ron McClain were the only players on San Diego's injury report listed as questionable. Royal has not practiced on a regular basis since suffering a toe injury against Indianapolis on Oct. 14, however, he's only missed one game due to the injury.

McClain was a limited participant on Friday due to a hamstring injury, so his availability is in question for Sunday’s contest against Oakland. Tight end Antonio Gates also was a limited participant on Friday. However, Gates' issue was not injury related, and he’s expected to play on Sunday. Gates was listed as probable on the team's injury report.

Linebacker Bront Bird (ankle), right tackle D.J. Fluker (ankle), receiver Keenan Allen (shoulder), linebacker Jarret Johnson (hand), running back Ryan Mathews (foot), safety Eric Weddle (hamstring), cornerback Shareece Wright (foot) and center Nick Hardwick (not injury related) all fully participated in practice on Friday and are probable for Sunday’s game.
So the Oakland Raiders preferred Matt Barkley over Tyler Wilson?

OK. That’s fine.

I don’t think it means the Raiders were unhappy to draft Wilson or they don’t think he can be a good player. It just meant Barkley was ranked higher on Oakland’s draft board than Wilson.

In fact, I’d be surprised if the reverse was true. Barkley was universally considered a better prospect than Wilson. That played out in the draft when Philadelphia traded up to take Barkley with the first pick of the fourth round. Oakland took Wilson with the 15th pick of the fourth round.

Oakland’s interest in Barkley was not a secret. General manager Reggie McKenzie attended USC's pro day. I’m sure Oakland would have grabbed Barkley if he were available when it picked in the fourth round. But if Oakland felt it had to have Barkley, it could have easily found a way to get him late in the third round.

I think the Raiders just followed their board and when Barkley was off, they felt fine about taking Wilson in the middle of the fourth round.

Thus, I don’t think the Raiders feel like Wilson was a consolation prize. He was a mid-round pick who they want to develop, and they feel fine about it. If Barkley becomes a star, well, there will be 31 teams wondering why they didn’t take him in the first three rounds.

Meanwhile, new Oakland quarterback Matt Flynn told ESPN the Magazine what his sporting life was like growing up. As part of a special project, the magazine had athletes retrace their path to the pros.

San Diego fullback Le’Ron McClain also recalled his childhood in sports for the series.

AFC West Pro Bowl voting update

November, 14, 2012
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The Pro Bowl voting process has begun. Here is a look at the AFC West players who are in the top five at their position in the fan voting. If a position is not mentioned, there are no players from the division in the top five. Voting goes through Dec. 17:

Quarterback

First place: Peyton Manning, Denver

Running back

Fourth place: Jamaal Charles, Kansas City

Fullback

Fourth place: Le'Ron McClain, San Diego

Fifth place: Chris Gronkowski, Denver

Wide receiver

Fourth place: Demaryius Thomas, Denver

Fifth place: Eric Decker, Denver

Tight end

Fourth place: Antonio Gates, San Diego

Fifth place: Jacob Tamme, Denver

Tackle

Third place: Ryan Clady, Denver

Guard

Second place: Zane Beadles, Denver

Center

Fourth place: Dan Koppen, Denver

Defensive end

Second place: Elvis Dumervil, Denver

Outside linebacker

First place: Von Miller, Denver

Second place: Wesley Woodyard, Denver

Fourth place: Justin Houston, Kansas City

Cornerback

Third place: Champ Bailey, Denver

Free safety

Fourth place: Eric Weddle, San Diego

Fifth place: Rahim Moore, Denver

Kicker

First place: Sebastian Janikowski, Oakland

Fourth place: Matt Prater, Denver

Punter

Second place: Shane Lechler, Oakland

Fourth place: Britton Colquitt, Denver

Returner

Fifth place: Trindon Holliday, Denver

Special teams

Fourth place: David Bruton, Denver

Ryan Mathews doesn't practice

September, 12, 2012
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It appears Ryan Mathews' attempt to play Sunday against Tennessee has lost momentum.

The running back did not practice Wednesday. He practiced on a limited basis all last week. He broke his clavicle Aug. 9 on his first preseason carry of the year and his recovery timetable was 4-6 week.

Mathews was hoping to play Sunday, but the fact that he didn’t work at all Wednesday may not be a good sign. If he can’t play, the Chargers will likely go with Ronnie Brown, Le'Ron McClain and Curtis Brinkley. San Diego ran for just 32 yards on 20 carries against Oakland.

Mathews is needed back, but it is clear the team will not rush him back to the field.

San Diego tight end Antonio Gates didn’t practice Wednesday with sore ribs he injured Monday. He was able to finish the game. The plan is for Gates to practice Thursday, so he should be able to play Sunday unless there is a setback.

As expected, left tackle Jared Gaither is still not practicing. He has been out with a back injury for six weeks. His replacement, undrafted rookie left tackle Mike Harris, played well in his Gaither’s absence at Oakland.

In other AFC West news:
  • The Chargers still have several thousand tickets to sell in order to avoid a local television blackout against Tennessee in the Chargers’ home opener. The deadline is Thursday.
  • Oakland linebacker Rolando McClain (ankle) and backup running back Taiwan Jones (ribs) both did not practice Wednesday. McClain had a solid game against San Diego and Jones is the Raiders' backup running back and kick returner. Both would be missed if they can’t play Sunday at Miami.
  • Kansas City safety Kendrick Lewis made some progress by practicing on a limited basis. He has been out for nearly a month with a shoulder injury. This is a sign that Lewis may be able to play at some point soon. Starting cornerback Brandon Flowers remained limited. He practiced on a limited basis last week but he did not play against Atlanta. Rookie receiver/returner Devon Wylie did not practice with a hamstring injury.
  • Oakland coach Dennis Allen said receiver Jacoby Ford's surgery was to repair a Lisfranc injury in his left foot. He is expected to be out for a significant amount of time.

Ryan Mathews concedes Week 1

September, 8, 2012
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Ryan Mathews has admitted what everyone else has long thought -- he will not be ready to play Monday when the Chargers open the season at Oakland.

Mathews
The injured Chargers’ running back told U-T San Diego that he no longer thinks he can get ready in time for the game, and he is now focusing his attention on playing Week 2 at home against Tennessee.

"I haven't been cleared for contact, and I think we're just going to wait this week," Mathews told the paper. "I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing. ... I just have to have the mindset right. I probably won't be playing in this game. But the next game, that's what I'm looking for now. I don't know about the team, but me personally, now I'm looking for that (Week 2) game against Tennessee."

Give Mathews credit for being steadfast in his determination to get on the field, but it has been clear that he just didn’t have enough time to prepare for the Oakland game. He has been practicing on a limited basis, but he hasn’t been cleared for contact. Mathews broke his clavicle Aug. 9 on his first carry of the preseason. Ronnie Brown is expected to start at Oakland with Le'Ron McClain and Curtis Brinkley also getting carries.

Meanwhile, will Oakland's Stefen Wisniewski play guard on Monday night? He has been expected to be the center, but he has missed the preseason with a calf injury and Alex Parsons has done a solid job at center. So, for at least, the time being, there is a chance both could be on the field.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter said on “SportsCenter" on Tuesday that the San Diego Chargers are not expecting running back Ryan Mathews to play Monday night at Oakland on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

Schefter said no final decision has been made. That tact makes sense.

Mathews is surely making progress from a broken clavicle he suffered Aug. 9 on his first carry of the reason. He returned to practice Monday on a limited basis, but he has yet to be cleared for contact. We will see how Mathews -- who said he is hopeful of playing Sunday -- does this week. But at this point, it seems like it will be a long shot.

If Mathews can’t play, the Chargers will use a rotation that includes Ronnie Brown, Le’Ron McClain and Curtis Brinkley against the Raiders.
Click here for the complete list of San Diego Chargers' roster moves.

Most significant move: The Chargers cut former starting fullback (and special-teams ace) Jacob Hester and fellow running back Edwin Baker, a seventh-round pick. The Chargers will go with the likes of Ronnie Brown, Le’Ron McClain, Jackie Battle and Curtis Brinkley early in the season if starter Ryan Mathews (broken clavicle) can’t play in the first couple of games. It was a no-brainer that the team kept kicker Nate Kaeding over Nick Novak. Kaeding, who was replaced by Novak after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in Week 1 last year, was better than Novak in camp and in the preseason.

Onward and upward: The Chargers cut undrafted rookie quarterback Jarrett Lee. The team was high on him, but once again, the team is going with just two quarterbacks: starter Philip Rivers and backup Charlie Whitehurst. Lee is a likely candidate for the practice squad. I can see receiver Mike Willie being put on the practice squad as well. He has potential, but he lacked consistency. I could see Baker as a practice-squad candidate as well. I’d think Hester will get looks elsewhere because of his special-teams availability. Longtime defensive tackle Jacques Cesaire could potentially get looks as the season progresses; there is always a need around the league for a veteran big man. If the Chargers get in a bind, I could see them turning the popular Cesaire, who was a locker-room favorite.

What’s next: Because of injuries, expect the Chargers to look for help at cornerback, tackle, safety and perhaps receiver and running back. Because left tackle Jared Gaither and several cornerbacks are hurt, San Diego could be on the lookout for players who could actually be active in Week 1 at Oakland. One player I fully expect San Diego to target is cornerback Drayton Florence. He’d fit right in as a nickel. Denver cut Florence on Friday. He is a former Charger and San Diego tried to sign him before he went to Denver.

Top AFC West newcomers

August, 23, 2012
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With training camps in the books and half of the preseason complete, let’s look at top newcomers (both rookies and veterans) to watch for each AFC West team. These players aren’t necessarily the players I’m saying are the best newcomers, just ones I think will make an impact and who are worth watching closely:

Denver

Rookie, defensive lineman Derek Wolfe: The second-round pick has been terrific so far, and I expect him to be a major part of the rotation in Week 1.

Veteran, cornerback Tracy Porter: He is an underrated addition and he solidifies an improved secondary. He was a quality pickup.

Kansas City

Rookie, receiver/returner Devon Wylie: I think we see the fourth rounder’s biggest impact come in the return game as a rookie. But he will make some early plays out of the slot as well.

Veteran, running back Peyton Hillis: The Chiefs love what they have in the Jamaal Charles-Hillis combination. Hillis has been working at a high level and he seems like a perfect fit for this offense.

Oakland

Rookie, linebacker Miles Burris: Free-agent receiver Rod Streater is making noise, but so has Burris, a fourth-round pick. With Aaron Curry’s knee issues, Burris may have to play early.

Veteran, linebacker Philip Wheeler: Wheeler is a quiet player, but he is solid, especially against the run. He will help improve this unit’s toughness.

San Diego

Rookie, pass-rusher Melvin Ingram: I expect the No. 18 overall pick to be a top candidate for defensive rookie of the year. He is a beast. He will instantly change this unit.

Veteran, running back Le'Ron McClain: The former Chief will help, especially early in the season with Ryan Mathews potentially out, as a runner and as a blocker. He is a leader and he will make the Chargers better.
As expected, replacing running back Ryan Mathews while he heals from a broken clavicle will be a group effort.

According to U-T San Diego, the Chargers will use Ronnie Brown, Le'Ron McClain and Curtis Brinkley while Mathews is out. I think this trio can get the job done on a temporary basis. I’m actually a big fan of Brinkley -- every time I’ve seen him, he makes plays. A couple of weeks ago, the consensus at Chargers camp was that Brinkley could be a victim of a numbers crunch, but now he is in the mix.

Meanwhile, Mathews is hopeful to return for the season opener Sept. 10 at Oakland on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” He was injured Thursday against Green Bay. Even though his recovery timetable could keep him out until Week 3, Mathews is confident the Chargers will not need to rely on the above-mentioned trio during the regular season to carry the load. Still, it is a smart move by San Diego to have a contingency plan.

In other AFC West news:

In a radio interview, Oakland defensive lineman Richard Seymour said he believes the team will be better against the run.

Former Raiders head coach and current ESPN “Monday Night Football” analyst Jon Gruden talks about going back to the Black Hole for his first game as an announcer. Gruden will call tonight’s ESPN broadcast of the preseason game between the Raiders and the Cowboys. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET. Gruden was wildly popular as Oakland's head coach from 1998-2001.

Denver coach John Fox said newly signed safety Jim Leonhard is “probably somewhere between week-to-week and day-to-day.”

Check out this fascinating look at Kansas City running back Peyton Hillis on ESPN.com.

Chargers not looking for new RB

August, 10, 2012
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Naturally, a big question amongst San Diego Chargers fans Friday is will the team pursue a veteran running back with Ryan Mathews out for 4-6 weeks with a broken clavicle.

Mathews
Well, the question has been answered.

According to U-T San Diego, Chargers coach Norv Turner said Friday that the team wouldn’t pursue a veteran running back while Mathews is out. Mathews could miss the first two games of the season. The top running backs available are Cedric Benson and Ryan Grant.

Turner explained that the Chargers won’t look for a veteran because the team has depth behind Mathews. Among the running backs in camp are Ronnie Brown, Jackie Battle and Curtis Brinkley. Rookies Michael Hayes and Edwin Baker are also in the mix. Fullback Le’Ron McClain can also run the ball.

I’d think that if Mathews’ injury was more serious the Chargers would look to add another back. But because he will be ready for most of the season, I can see why the Chargers are going to plan to stick with their stable of backups in the short term.

Also, I wonder if Benson and/or Grant would be interested in signing with a team in which the starter is out for a short period of time. They might want to stay patient and see if a better situation opened. Also, Benson and Grant aren’t great fits, according to Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. He said neither player offers anything as a receiver and wouldn’t be a fit for Turner’s offense.

So there are a lot of reasons why the Chargers are leaning to stand pat while Mathews is out.
SAN DIEGO -- With the outside perception of the San Diego Chargers taking a major tumble, the team, which for so long was built from the inside, changed philosophy in 2012 in a last attempt to keep that proverbial Super Bowl window from slamming shut and causing major upheaval in the organization.

After two playoff-less seasons and a reprieve from ownership, San Diego general manager A.J. Smith made an uncharacteristically heavy play in free agency. Taking advantage of one of the deepest classes in history, the Chargers nabbed more than a dozen free agents to infuse new life into a roster that was still talented but no longer arguably the stoutest in the NFL.

“I love what they have done around here,” said safety Eric Weddle, one of the Chargers' homegrown mainstays. “We hit the lowest of the lows the past two years by not making the playoffs. Getting new blood in here has helped.”

Among the veterans San Diego brought in were running backs Le'Ron McClain and Ronnie Brown, receivers Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, linebacker Jarret Johnson and defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin.

“The thing about the new guys is they all love football,” San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. “They love it. We need guys like that here. … It gives us a new start. Those guys won’t worry about the past. They weren’t here for the slow starts or the six-game losing streak last year. It’s all a new start.”

If this cleansing of the roster doesn’t work, the next restructuring will likely occur up top with the firing of coach Norv Turner and possibly Smith. Yet, in a season of new beginnings, spirits are high.

“I think we can be special,” Weddle said. “There’s still a lot of talent here, with a bunch of new talent. … People may not be expecting much from us this year because we haven’t done anything, so that’s fair. But it’s kind of nice to be under the radar for once.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeRyan Mathews
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireThe Chargers aim to lean even more heavily on running back Ryan Mathews this season.
1. Ryan Mathews' workload: Outside of Rivers, there is likely not a more important player in this camp than Mathews. The Chargers all know if Mathews flourishes in his third NFL season, the team will have a strong chance to be successful. Mathews, the No. 12 overall pick in 2010, had a solid second season as he ran for 1,091 yards and averaged a terrific 4.9 yards per carry. This year, the Chargers want to see Mathews become consistent and stay healthy. He will likely be given the chance to to carry the ball 25 times a game, catch several balls out of the backfield and be a factor on third down and in short yardage. This camp is designed to get him prepared for a heavy workload. From what I saw and heard, it seems like Mathews might be up to the task.

“He’s working hard,” Rivers said. “Ryan knows what is expected of him.”

2. Sparking the defense: While the offense in San Diego needs some tweaks, the bigger fixes are necessary on defense, where former linebackers coach John Pagano is in charge of fixing a unit that fell apart last season. He replaces Greg Manusky, who was fired after one season on the job. The biggest issue -- it is a major point of emphasis in camp -- is getting off the field on third down. San Diego was last in the NFL in third-down defense in 2011. It gave up a first down on 49.2 percent of all third downs -- according to ESPN Stats & Information, the worst percentage in the NFL since the 1995 Cleveland Browns. The Chargers have added several pieces to the defense and it has a chance to be much more active -- particularly on passing downs, when No. 1 pick Melvin Ingram will be given a chance to make an instant impact as a pass-rusher.

3. Protect the quarterback: The San Diego offensive line was in shambles for much of last season, and it was a big reason why Rivers struggled for the first 10 games. Mainly due to poor health, San Diego used 13 offensive linemen last season -- literally taking players off the street at one point in November. With Jared Gaither, claimed off waivers from Kansas City, solidifying the left tackle spot, the unit improved dramatically late in the season. Gaither was re-signed and is being counted on to protect Rivers’ blind side. The steady Tyronne Green takes over for the departed Kris Dielman. Green has fared well when he's had to play. If this unit remains in good health, it should protect Rivers well. If not, trouble could persist. So far, the unit looks good in camp.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

The passing game looks to be top-notch. After a sloppy start to last season, Rivers finished 2011 strong. He has looked good in camp, and has an interesting group of receivers. Yes, standout Vincent Jackson is gone, but the Chargers have an ensemble group that includes Malcom Floyd, free-agent signees Meachem (New Orleans) and Royal (Denver) and second-year player Vincent Brown. Together, this group should offer Rivers plenty of help.

“We like what we have there,” Turner said. “We like all the pieces. We think we can get some things done in the passing game.”

If the Rivers-led passing attack is back at an elite level, the Chargers will be a threat to win every game. When Rivers is on, San Diego has a chance to score every time the offense hits the field.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The Chargers must prove they are totally past their doldrums. The team feels good about itself, but it does every summer. We will not know if San Diego is out of its funk until it’s out.

Yes, the depth looks good, but will it be enough if injuries pile up for a fourth consecutive year? Yes, cutting down on turnovers is a point of emphasis in camp, but once the season starts, will the hard work pay off or will the killer interceptions and fumbles continue?

It has gotten to the point where we can’t trust this team until it shows it is has indeed rebounded.

OBSERVATION DECK

    [+] EnlargeEddie Royal
    AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziReceiver Eddie Royal, an offseason pickup, appears to have clicked with Chargers QB Philip Rivers.
  • Tight end Antonio Gates is turning heads on a daily basis. After dealing with foot-related injuries for four years, Gates is finally completely healthy. He’s slimmed down and he is making a lot of plays. If his health remains, the 32-year-old should make a huge impact.
  • Denver might have lost interest in Royal, but there is a place for him San Diego. Expect Royal to get a lot of work. He has impressed the coaching staff this summer and I expect him to be as favorite a target for Rivers during the season as he has been this summer.
  • The Chargers love what they see in Johnson. He is tough, smart and excellent against the run. They think he can bump the defense up a notch.
  • Linebacker Donald Butler looks good after a strong 2011 season, which was essentially his rookie season because he was injured in 2010. He is just another fascinating young defensive piece on this team.
  • Undrafted rookie quarterback Jarrett Lee looks like a keeper. He got extra work because of a knee injury to Charlie Whitehurst. I could see Lee making this roster. The Chargers were burned last year when they tried to sneak undrafted rookie quarterback Scott Tolzien onto the practice squad; he was claimed by San Francisco. If Lee continues to impress, I think the Chargers will find room for him on the 53-man roster. They need to develop a young quarterback at some point and Lee might be it.

  • The Nate Kaeding-Nick Novak battle at kicker will go down to the wire. If Kaeding stays healthy and kicks well in the preseason, he should win the job.
  • The Chargers love the skill level of Meachem. Perhaps he was lost in the shuffle of the dynamic offensive weaponry in New Orleans. He’ll get his shot in San Diego.
  • The Chargers are pumped about McClain, a free-agent pickup from Kansas City. He will play a lot and should be in the mix for some carries. They like the veteran stability he brings to the offense.
  • Center David Molk, a seventh-round pick, is getting some second-team reps. He may have a future.
  • The Chargers are very happy with pre-camp signings Franklin and running back/special-teamer Jackie Battle. Though they both signed late, I see them both being contributors.
  • Keep an eye on ex-Chief Demorrio Williams. The linebacker has been a camp stud, boasting terrific speed. The Chargers like him in coverage.
  • The Chargers will keep their eyes open for help at certain positions, including cornerback and offensive line, as the summer progresses.
  • Third-round pick Brandon Taylor, a safety, might not make an instant impact, but Taylor has impressed and will get some valuable time behind veteran pickup Atari Bigby, who himself has been outstanding this summer.

  • Brown has been getting looks as the third-down back and will be an occasional Wildcat threat.
  • Running back Curtis Brinkley flashed talent at times last season, but because of the logjam at running back, he is a long shot to make the team.

  • Rookie tight end Ladarius Green has nice receiving skills. I can see him making an impact behind Gates and Dante Rosario (a very nice backup). Green, a fourth-round pick, needs to learn to block at an NFL level, but he has terrific hands and natural size.
  • Undrafted rookie tackle Mike Harris has taken advantage of an early camp injury to Gaither, getting some reps with the first team. The UCLA product has a chance to make the team. Rivers has joked that Harris has gotten more first-team reps than any undrafted rookie tackle in the history of the NFL.
Weekend mail call:

Kevin Ferrelli from Charleston, S.C. wants to know if I think the San Diego Chargers' backup running back situation is solid.

Bill Williamson: It’s not bad. The key is Ryan Mathews' health. I don’t think there is a solid starting answer other than Mathews on the roster, but there are plenty of players who are capable of carrying the ball a few times a game. I think Jackie Battle, Ronnie Brown, Curtis Brinkley and rookie Edwin Baker could all help this team and don’t forget new fullback Le'Ron McClain. He can carry the rock as well to give Mathews a breather.

James from Fresno wants to know if I think Peyton Manning's first season will be considered a failure if the Broncos don’t get past the first round of the playoffs as the Tim Tebow-led Broncos did in 2011.

BW: I think it would be difficult to say otherwise. But I think the big picture here is Manning’s entire time in Denver. If Manning’s health is strong after the season, it will be a positive. But there is no doubt the Broncos signed Manning to make a deep playoff run immediately.

Tommy from Kansas City wants to know if I think Jonathan Baldwin can catch 50 passes this season.

BW: I think that is reasonable. The Chiefs are giving to give Baldwin a chance to make a splash. After dealing with a broken thumb, Baldwin had 21 catches in 11 games. He had a good offseason and I think the Chiefs are going to give him all he can handle in 2012, so 50 catches is a steep, but reasonable, expectation.
SAN DIEGO -- Le'Ron McClain can move like a tailback. But he has the work ethic of a fullback.

So, if he doesn’t get the chance to run the ball and is relegated to fullback duties, McClain has no problem. He goes ahead and blocks. However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to carry the rock once in a while. That’s why he is so thrilled to be a San Diego Charger.

“I’m in sweet San Diego, baby,” McClain said.

Nothing is sweeter than getting some carries to go along with those linebacker blocking assignments. McClain will not evoke memories of LaDainian Tomlinson in San Diego, but he will get some carries.

“That’s all I want,” McClain said. “I will do whatever the team wants and it seems the coaches here want me to carry the ball some, and I’m all for that.”

McClain, who played in Kansas City last season, had a total of 89 carries the past three seasons while with the Ravens and Chiefs. In 2008, McClain had on 902 yards on 232 carries. He likely won’t get that many this seasons, but the Chargers are not afraid to give him the ball.

“Whatever they want, I’ll be ready,” McClain said.

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